The Words We Utter

We are the words we utter.

To reflect on our words is to understand ourselves . . . kind of.

Here are some of my words, and my reflections on my words.

Words Of My Early Thirties

“This is where the rubber meets the road.”

I said this a lot in my early thirties, when I became a local church leader. I worked closely in my capacity with a brilliant Cal Tech engineer and an equally brilliant trial lawyer. We were lay ministers who formed a presidency that presided over at least five congregations.

We repeated this phrase over and over again, at least it seemed that way to me. It was said to emphasize the critical point of truth on an issue.

Of the three, I was the least disciplined. Such phrases stiffened me, management wise. I enjoyed the no non-sense atmosphere I was exposed to. No flinching was allowed. Language was precise and efficient.

There is a conservative, tough streak in me, that was ready to be refined and embraced. Indeed, I was ready to know “where the rubber meets the road.”

However, by my late thirties I had stopped using that phrase. I had been stiffened about as much as I wanted to be.

Words Of My Early Forties

“In my humble opinion.”

In my early forties, I heard a very smart technologist use this phrase when giving a recommendation for a solution to a serious business problem. He was almost always correct in his assessments, and to avoid showing others up, he sometimes prefaced his remarks by saying, “In my humble opinion . . . .”

The smartest guy in the room used the word “humble.” When he did, it took the edginess off of the hard hitting business environment that we were both working in.

I started using those words as a management consultant. In my profession, you get pretty good at studying situations and giving advice. In doing so, you become confident, sometimes too confident. I used that phrase to soften my demeanor.

It worked well for me.

However, recently my wife has challenged my over use of it. She said that I was being something I really wasn’t. “Just say what you mean. Cut the in my humble opinion stuff. You don’t really feel humble.”

Her critique has had its effect. The phrase no longer seems as effective as it once did.

Energy And Movement

“In a New York Minute.”

I like the phrase. I like the busy streets of New York City. Everyone is going some place. And they’re always going there quickly.

It’s a perfect phrase. When I want to tell someone that’s where I’d go or what I’d do, I’ll say, “I’d go there in a New York minute”, or “I’d do that in a New York minute.”

A high paced environment appeals to me, especially mornings in big cities. Energy and movement are at their all time high. I enjoy it, when I take the time to observe it.

Bo Diddley

“Rock n’ roll.”

When I think I have reached consensus with others, and there’s no more to be said, but only things to do, I often end the conversation saying, “rock n’ roll”. It means, I’m feeling good, let’s roll with it.

I first heard these words in 1957. The phrase is tied to the driving rhythms of African music, which started emerging in American music as the beat of rock n’ roll.

I remember sneaking into a high school dance when I was only starting junior high school. I walked around listening to the deep throb of rock n’ roll music, and watched the kids in high school “fast dance” in a lowly lit gym. It was the first time I heard Bo Diddley play and sing “Bo Diddley”. I thought I would jump out of my skin. The song had a driving “insistency”, which made it primitive, raw, and honest. As far as I was concerned, it was, as the Showmen belted out, rock n’ roll “will be here for ever and ever”.

(Listen to Bo Diddley’s “Bo Diddley”. Then Johnny Otis’ “Willie and The Hand Jive”, which used Bo Diddley’s deep rhythm.)

Lighten Up

“When do we start having some fun?”

I once heard a COO of a major corporation say to another senior executive, “When do we start to have some fun?” His boss was a boring, controlling guy. And the HR Director was a policy Nazi, who happened to be a lawyer. It struck me as funny when he said it, because it was so appropriate.

When corporate environments become too serious and stodgy these days, I use these words to lighten things up. And as you might guess, human resources’ policies are my best targets. When I’m giving a lecture to a corporate group, I’ll let a cuss word fly. Then I’ll correct myself and apologize, and then follow-up with, “when do we start having some fun?” It gets a laugh, because, well . . . It’s so appropriate.

Dance, My Friend

“Dance all the dances.”

I don’t want to leave this life having worshiped consistency. I want to have experienced as much as I can. And, I always want to do it with people I love. Hence, I’m fond of saying to those I care about, “Remember, dance all the dances”.

I am aware that setbacks and unanticipated misfortunes happen in life. So, I resist sitting back and waiting for the calamitous to happen, not that it will. So, I am ready to enjoy life right now.

This isn’t always as easy as it seems. Humans are built to anticipate the unanticipated, and are wary about tempting fate by appearing frivolous in the present. I’m no different. Nevertheless, I work as hard as humanly possible to participate in life at a very high pace.


“It’s all opinion.”

I woke up one day and realized that everything everyone says is opinion. No one knows anything for sure. At a certain point, it’s all opinion. Nothing is completely knowable, not even gravity. I had freed myself.

I can respect someone’s opinion. I can follow someone’s informed opinion. But, no one should be made to accept someone’s opinion as the final word on any matter.

Disciplining . . .

“When you’re explaining, you’re losing.”

My mother would often say that to me when I was trying to pull something over on her.

Ah, my mother. I’ve concluded she wasn’t a disciplinarian when it came to me. And when she encouraged my step father to discipline me, when I was young, she would shut it down after awhile. In her words, “I wanted you to discipline him, not nail him to the cross”.

She liked men, but kind of gave up on them. I think in her mind, males couldn’t get it right. They were always overdoing things.

So, in her attempt to discipline me, she would use words on me, like “you’re explaining too much, Roger”.

I’m like my mother, plus I’m a man. I wasn’t much of a disciplinarian as a father, and when I tried, I never felt like I got it quite right. So, like my mother, I use words. “When you’re explaining you’re losing” are among some of the best words, whether you are working with children, clients, or politicians.